Linode review

Speedy SSD Linux hosting for expert users

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Our Verdict

Fast and highly configurable cloud hosting for Linux experts.

For

  • Low starting price
  • Speedy network and hardware
  • Wide choice of distros
  • 24/7 support

Against

  • Backup system has some limitations
  • Requires plenty of Linux experience

Founded in 2003, Linode is a New Jersey-based web host with more than 400,000 customers worldwide.

The company is focused entirely on its Linux cloud hosting platform, so it's not the best choice for beginners. There's no cPanel-like frontend, no one-click installer or website builder – you must set everything up from your choice of Linux distro (which comprises of Debian, Ubuntu, CentOS, Fedora, Arch, Gentoo, openSUSE and more).

This does at least keep the product structure very simple, with Linode offering 15 plans which vary only in their assigned RAM, CPU cores, storage and transfer allowance.

Prices start at a very accessible $5 (£3.84) a month (billed at $0.075 per hour) for 1GB RAM, 1 core, 25GB storage and 1TB data transfer a month, ranging up to a chunky $960 (£738) a month ($1.44 an hour) for an enterprise-ready 192GB RAM, 32 cores, 3,840GB storage and 20TB transfer.

All plans have a data transfer allowance, with excess traffic charged at $0.02 per GB. If you're used to the 'unlimited' plans offered by HostGator, 1&1 and others, that might appear to be a problem.

But on the plus side, Linode has excellent network speeds, with 40Gbps for incoming traffic, and 1,000Mbps to 12,000Mbps for outgoing; far better than you'll generally see elsewhere.

There's another highlight in a choice of nine data centers spread across the US, Asia and Europe.

Cloud platforms can seem more complex than shared hosting, but Linode support is on hand to help, 24/7, via ticket, telephone (with US and international numbers), and even a #linode IRC channel.

Sounds good to us, but if you're unsure, Linode offers a 7-day money-back guarantee. If you're unhappy with the service for any reason, let the company know and you'll get a full refund, no questions asked.

Getting started

Signing up with Linode works much like any other web host. Hand over some personal details (name, email and physical address), provide your payment details (card only, although you can transfer funds from PayPal later) and that's it, you're redirected to Linode's Manager console within seconds.

Creating your Linode server is just as straightforward. Select the resources you need, your preferred data center, and your setup is ready to go almost immediately.

Linode's web dashboard displays the status of your server, including network traffic stats, storage information, graphs showing CPU and network load, and a history of major server events (boots, shutdowns, disk creations, more).

There's no cPanel, Plesk, Softaculous or other frontend to help you manage your server, so instead you must manually set up whatever you need.

Linode's Lish (LInode SHell) gives you console access to your setup. You can use custom commands to shut down, reboot or reconfigure your server, or simply log in as root and issue whatever commands you like.

Alternatively, you can connect to Lish via any SSH client, and manage your setup as normal.

There's plenty to do. Your distro will have all its default settings, so you'll probably need to install software updates, maybe set your hostname, create a limited user account, lock down SSH access and more.

Fortunately, Linode has some detailed Getting Started and Securing Your Server tutorials. They won't help Linux newbies much, but if you're familiar with the basics, they'll quickly point you in the right direction.

Managing your server

Once your server is up and running, basic management tasks can be handled from the dashboard. You can shut down, restart or reboot the server with a click, resize a disk, configure a swap image, maybe add a new volume. Everything is clearly described and easy to find.

Backups aren't included by default, but you can enable an automated backup system in seconds. It's easy to use, gives you automated daily backups, can restore images from up to 14 days ago, and supports a single on-demand backup which you can keep for as long as you need.

The underlying technology has its limitations. It won't be able to mount your disks if you've used fdisk to create partitions, for instance, or you're using encrypted volumes, or if you've done anything beyond use Linode's own disk and volume creation and deployment tools. And even then, backups work at the file, not the block level.

But if you're happy with simple file backups, the restore function is quick and easy, and includes the ability to restore to any other server you have attached to this account. Prices are very reasonable, too, starting at $2 (£1.57) a month for the basic 25GB plan.

Scaling your server is simple enough, with little more to do than choosing your preferred RAM size and tapping a 'Resize this Linode Now!' button. There will be a little downtime, though, as your server is shut down and migrated (the website quoted a nine minute delay for migrating our tiny 1GB plan.) Although CPU and storage allocations are also increased automatically, your disks remain at their original size, so you'll need to manually resize them before you can use the new resources.

Exploring Linode's dashboard reveals plenty of other useful tools and settings. These start small, for example with the ability to set up email alerts when server CPU usage, disk I/O or traffic levels pass a certain threshold.

More powerful functions include an option to clone your setup to a new server in a different data center, a handy Rescue Mode to recover your system from even the most critical of issues, and a scripting system to simplify lengthy tasks. They're still not simple, exactly – here's a WordPress installation example, for instance – but StackScripts could still save you time and effort.

If you run into trouble with any of this, a Help button at the bottom of the dashboard opens the Linode support bot. This doesn't just give you a few links to common issues: you can type in some keywords, or a full question, and it will return the best matches.

As a support interface, this works very well. Articles are intelligently ordered and clearly presented. If you're unsure about an answer, you can run a second search and get the results beneath the first, helping you decide which is best. The support window even remembers what you were doing last time, so if you head off to try a solution, find it doesn't quite work and click the Help button again, your previous searches and results will be restored.

There's a small issue with the content, as some of the general tutorials aren't always up-to-date. When we searched for WordPress, for instance, the two top installation guides both warned that they were 'deprecated and no longer being maintained'.

Linode's documentation of its own system is good, though, with all major features (and most of the minor ones) covered in detail, and with support for all its main distros (check out what's on offer here).

A Community feature lets you ask for assistance from other members, and 24/7 phone and email support brings you expert help when you most need it. Factor in the backup, imaging and rescue features, and we suspect you'll be able to recover from even major problems with minimal time and effort.

Final verdict

Linode delivers powerful cloud hosting for everything from small personal projects to enterprise-level setups, but you will need plenty of Linux experience to set up and manage the service.